Spirited performer
Sailing Today|April 2021
Choosing a traditional-looking boat doesn’t mean going low-tech, as Sam Fortescue discovered when he sailed the Spirit Yachts’ new 44E
Sam Fortescue

There’s no denying it when you clap eyes on the latest boat to emerge from the Ipswich yard of Spirit Yachts. There is a lot to be said for old fashioned looks. With her long overhangs fore and aft and a glowing mahogany finish, the new 44E cruiser racer is a thing of beauty. And yet, this is a pioneering boat, designed and built to cross oceans in comfort without burning a drop of fossil fuel.

Compared to the pared-down, sleek lines of her larger sisters, the 44E offers more volume and therefore greater comfort for adventurous sailing. “These hulls have a little more beam and volume with increased displacement,” explains Spirit founder and head designer Sean McMillan. “Their counters tend to be a little less extreme, as the lazarettes are required for carrying more equipment, a dinghy and so on. The fuller volume is carried further aft.”

It is nothing like the volume of other modern 44-footers, but volume is not the main reason to consider this boat. With her gleaming brightwork and lines reminiscent of a 1930s yacht, she is a thing of beauty. Construction is in the well-proven combination of cold-moulded wood and glass infused with epoxy. Hull planking is in Douglas fir as standard, but the Canadian owner of this first boat, Dr Vincent Argiro, opted for yellow cedar. It is more expensive, but saves around 150kg in the build. “When it came to making the boat go faster, I stopped looking at the budget,” he tells me.

Every element of the design is completed in-house by Spirit, and McMillan still starts by sketching every boat by hand. His naval architects run it through CAD and Velocity Prediction Programmes, so the boats have a very modern feel below the waterline. Flat aft sections are designed to minimise friction and enable the boat to plane at up to 17 knots on a reach, according to the VPP. In displacement mode, hull speed is a stately 7.4 knots, but the long overhangs quickly lengthen the waterline as she heels and add potential for another knot.

All Spirits have carbon spars as standard. But the owner of this first 44E wanted a powerful, light-airs sailer for the fitful winds of his home waters in British Columbia, Canada, so he ordered a mast with an extra 2.4m length to it. Stayed with EC3 multistrand carbon rigging from Future Fibres, the rig saves weight aloft equivalent to a 10 per cent increase in righting moment from the modern lead bulb keel.

The carbon fibre spade rudder is so well balanced that it offers no resistance at all. Sailing at 5-6 knots in some 8-10 knots of breeze, I could tack easily with just fingertips on the wheel. The mast has a ferocious bend to it, with sails from OneSails that fit like a glove, but there is still an adjustable backstay. A large main and relatively small jib make for easy handling. The mainsheet traveller is on the aft deck, with four manual Lewmar 48ST winches on the coaming – all within easy reach of the helm. Two size 40 halyard winches appear on the coach roof, one of which is electric. There is an electric Bartels furler for the jib, hidden under the deck, and a tack point positioned further forward for a loose-luffed headsail or a Code sail.

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